Mitigating tsunamis’ threats and destructive impacts through enhanced navigation satellite system


Mitigating tsunamis’ threats and destructive impacts through enhanced navigation satellite system

Mitigating tsunamis’ threats and destructive impacts through enhanced navigation satellite system 750 1000 Ocean Decade

With over 40% of the global population living within 100km of the coast – a trend on the rise – and increasingly exposed to climate risks, urgent and innovative adaptation solutions are needed to face the many and diverse challenges to the communities and the ecosystems in these areas. Through a joint call for fellows launched by the AXA Research Fund and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission as part of the Ocean Decade, seven ground-breaking postdoctoral research projects have been endorsed as part of the Ocean Decade and will strengthen science-based interventions for coastal livelihood preservation and resilience.

One of the seven selected fellows of the AXA Research Fund – IOC/UNESCO joint call, Dr. Michela Ravanelli is launching in September 2023 her ‘Altruist’ project to improve the timeliness and reliability of tsunami warning systems in earthquake-prone coastal areas and communities.

“This research will leverage a set of algorithms and develop a tool based on the Global Navigation Satellite System, or GNSS,” says Michela, who specializes in Geomatics. “The goal is to improve the reliability, accuracy and real-time tsunami warning systems.”

Over the past century, 58 tsunamis have cost the lives of over 260,000 people worldwide. Although rare, these events possess tremendous destructive force and result in more loss of life than any other natural disaster, with an average of 4,600 deaths per event.[1] The United Nations warns that by 2030, half the world’s population will live in coastal areas exposed to strong flooding, storms and tsunamis, exacerbated by rising sea levels.[2]

“Tens of thousands of people and billions of dollars in assets are threatened by the global tsunami hazard, so we need to develop innovative approaches to reduce risks,” she states. “When a tsunami generated by a local earthquake may impact within minutes, timely warnings and evacuation are essential.”

Michela will base her work on the Total Variometric Approach developed by researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, and tested during the 2015 Illapel 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile. The method demonstrated promising results in supporting the classic tsunami warning system, contributing to a complete understanding, rapid characterization and management of seismic events in real-time.

Tsunamis can produce gravity waves which can reach the upper part of the atmosphere, the so-called ionosphere, and perturb the ions and electrons that compose it. This perturbation is detectable through GNSS signal. Through different algorithms, the Total Variometric Approach ensures simultaneous monitoring of the ground-motion and of the induced ionospheric perturbations.

During her AXA Research Fund fellowship at the Sapienza University of Rome, Michela will improve techniques for measuring atmosphere perturbations by developing new procedures, determining the correct altitude for detecting earthquake and tsunami perturbations in the ionosphere, and implementing a real-time ionospheric background filter.

“I will refine the Total Variometric Approach to create a real-time tool that will enhance the efficiency, reliability and accuracy of tsunami warning systems,” she explains.

Michela’s research will address Ocean Decade Challenge 6, which aims to enhance multi-hazard early warning services for all geophysical, ecological, biological, weather, climate and anthropogenic related ocean and coastal hazards, and mainstream community preparedness and resilience.

The second phase of the project will demonstrate the effectiveness of the methodology in a real-time warning system – tests will take place at the IPGP Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Guadeloupe, one of the four volcanological observatories dedicated to the monitoring of active French volcanoes.

“Coupled with already existing warning systems, like seismometers, accelerometers, buoys and tide gages, the developed methodology is expected to have profound and wide-ranging impacts on the tsunami warning systems community,” details Michela. “We will save lives by looking at the sky!”

The project aims to serve as an additional support to local authorities and governments in establishing and maintaining preparedness for an effective tsunami response. In the long term, the methodology is expected to be exported to other tsunamigenic zones.

Listen to Michela’s full interview here:

For more details on Michela’s project, visit her Action page on the Ocean Decade website and her project page on the AXA Research Fund website.

For more details on all the winning projects, visit the AXA Postdoctoral Fellows page.



The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC/UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.

About the Ocean Decade:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.

About the AXA Research Fund:

The AXA Research Fund was launched in 2008 to address the most important issues facing our planet. Its mission is to support scientific research in key areas related to risk and to help inform science-based decision-making in both the public and private sectors. Since its launch, the AXA Research Fund has committed a total of €250M to scientific funding and supported nearly 700 research projects in the areas of health, climate and environment, and socio-economics.




The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want





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